On any given day, at almost any hour, on Hanoi sidewalks you’ll see people perched on small plastic stools, solving the worries of the world and sipping their much-loved coffee. Tony Huddy wondered what was the attraction, until he took that first mouthful and discovered coffee heaven…
“Now don’t get me wrong, the food in Vietnam is nothing short of sensational. Everything here tastes good, even the pigs intestines. But there is something better than the food in Vietnam – the Vietnamese coffee!
This is what coffee should be. No skinny milk lattes, no soy mochacinos, no mass-produced-franchise-factory-line-uniformly-bland sludge. This is the real thing, the way nature and several hundred years of human experimentation intended. Thick, black, sweet, and full of kick.
Vietnamese coffee is a coffee drinker’s dream. It is everything that’s good about coffee in one thick, syrupy, pool of deliciousness. It’s strong. So strong even seasoned caffeine addicts start to get the shakes after three cups in a day. It’s thick. So thick your spoon almost stands on end in the cup, and when you take a sip, the coffee slides back down the edge of your cup like oil. It’s dark. So dark you can’t see the bottom of the cup until it is all gone. It’s sweet. A wonderful, chocolatey sweetness that hides the bitterness you usually get from very strong coffee, but still leaves you with that unmistakeable bite at the end.
It seems the Vietnamese have worked out how coffee should be done, and have stuck with it. Coffee was introduced to Vietnam by the French in the late 19th century. The climate of the Buon Me Thuot region proved to be ideal for coffee growing, so much so that Vietnam is now becoming one of the world’s largest exporters.
The domestic market for coffee is also very strong. On almost every street in Hanoi you’ll find someone willing to brew you up a cup. Ca Phe Sua Nong (hot milk coffee), and its cousin Ca Phe Sua Da (iced milk coffee), are served with sweetened condensed milk (or evaporated milk). Originally this was more for convenience than flavour, as condensed milk lasted longer than fresh milk in the hot climate, an important factor where refrigeration was not always wide spread. Now it is very much the right way to serve Vietnamese coffee. The condensed milk eliminates the need for sugar, and adds to the thick, syrupy texture of the brew. And it takes the colour from jet black, to a satisfyingly dark chocolate brown.
True Vietnamese coffee is more than just a morning pick me up. It’s an experience. It is about sitting on small plastic chairs at a little plastic table on the side of the road, drinking a coffee that has been freshly brewed by a little elderly lady who was quite possibly making coffee for soldiers back in ’73, and watching the chaos of motor scooters rushing by, while you let that thick black liquid enter your system and provide your mouth with pleasure, your stomach with warmth, and your brain with a much needed kick start.
Vietnam. I came for the food, but I stayed for the coffee!”
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* photo by Sharon Mathews – Intrepid Photography Competition